Georgia’s field corn acreage is up and yields should be strong, but prices remain disappointingly low for producers, according to University of Georgia Cooperative Extension weed specialist Eric Prostko.
Because cotton prices have slipped to 67 cents per pound, Georgia producers have looked for alternative crops to cotton. Field corn is a viable option, especially since it is widely used as a rotational crop for growers who farm peanuts, another popular commodity in Georgia.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture projects that Georgia farmers will harvest 355,000 acres of corn this year, up 25 percent from last year’s 285,000, according to Prostko.
“Field corn is a crop that Georgia growers will always count on every growing season. While it requires regular chemical applications to avoid diseases like corn rust and irrigation because of its strong dependence on water, it remains a valuable commodity for our producers,” Prostko said. “Now, is the price where we would like it to be? No, but it remains a potential strong option for our growers to consider, especially if cotton prices remain as low as they have for an extended period of time.”
Along with increased acreage, Prostko said several farmers are “hitting their marks” with projected corn yields. Georgia’s expected increase in yields coincides with the country’s projected boom in corn production this year. The USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service forecasts corn production at 15.1 billion bushels, up 11 percent from last year.
Georgia growers faced challenges this year in achieving high production. Excessive rainfall during a two-week period in late March and early April delayed some plantings in south Georgia. Farmers also overcame drought-like conditions during the summer. Prostko estimates that between 75 and 85 percent of Georgia’s corn crop is irrigated, which was a necessity this year, especially in July.
“We’re going to compensate our moisture deficits through irrigation. Our farmers are watering every day or every other day,” Protsko said. “Some may never shut the pivot off because it takes so long to get around, you’ve got to just keep it going.”
Field corn is a high-water-use crop and south Georgia soils are sandy and contain low organic matter that doesn’t hold moisture well. Georgia also experiences extremely high temperatures during the summer, which results in a lot of evaporation.
“It’s like we’re fighting a drought all the time,” Prostko said.
Achieving high yields this growing season is vital for corn growers dealing with prices averaging $3.33 per bushel. Those prices fall far below the $7 and $8 prices producers enjoyed last year and below the $4 threshold for which most producers aim, Prostko said. One option growers have is to store their corn, which Prostko expects to happen until prices rebound.
One cost-effective solution that growers have transitioned to in recent years is the use of electric pumps on irrigation systems. Since corn requires constant water application, irrigation systems are constantly running. Instead of paying for diesel fuel, most farmers use electric pumps, a cost-saving solution.
To view photos of corn production and research at the UGA, see http://bit.ly/2dboxhO.
To watch a video of corn being harvested on the UGA Tifton Campus, see http://bit.ly/2ckrE9Y.
(Clint Thompson is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences based in Tifton.)